Overview of the John Cardinal Dearden Legacy Project:
A Life to Remember, A Legacy to Embrace

“No other hierarchy in the world has a better
or more forthright and courageous leader
than John Cardinal Dearden.” – Fr. Ted Hesburgh, CSC

John Francis Dearden, 1907 – 1988
Archbishop of Detroit, 1959 – 1980

The Legacy Project will publish a compendium of:

1) TRANSCRIPTIONS of three major presentations about The Second Vatican Council by John Cardinal Dearden, Archbishop of Detroit, eminent churchman, council father and architect of the first Call to Action.

The transcriptions feature:

     a) A behind-the scenes look at Vatican II

     b) Gaudium et Spes and its chapter on Marriage and Family

     c) Lumen Gentium

2) SELECT SPEECHES and HOMILIES by the Archbishop of Detroit to local, national and international pastoral, theological and academic assemblies;

3) ORIGINAL ESSAYS about his contributions to the Church; and



With primary and secondary sources, this book will record John Cardinal Dearden’s responsibilities, leadership and contributions to Vatican II and to the local, national and universal Church.

Among Cardinal Dearden’s Distinctions:

• He was a member of the Second Vatican Council’s Doctrinal Commission and participated in all four sessions.

• He chaired the Vatican Council’s sub-commission on marriage and family.

• He was elected to serve as the first president of the American National Catholic Conference of Bishops (NCCB) in 1966.

• He chaired the NCCB’s Call to Action Justice Conference, convened in Detroit in October 1976, in observance of the bi-centennial of the United States.

Rationale: There is no single compilation of this eminent churchman’s experiences at the Second Vatican Council, his speeches and writings and critical assessments which capture and expand the historical record of this important time in the Roman Catholic Church. This publication will serve to enhance understanding of and appreciation for his critical role in the American Church’s embrace of renewal as envisioned by the council fathers. Colleagues had urged the Cardinal to record his extensive and unique experiences at the Second Vatican Council and at the helm of the NCCB—but to no avail.


1) This publication will include full transcripts of three of Cardinal Dearden’s major presentations about Vatican II.

• The first transcript offers his personal perspective and overview of the process, development and significance of one of the most important religious events in the past several centuries—Vatican II.

• The second transcript concerns marriage and family as developed in Gaudium et Spes, articles 47-52 and the painstaking effort of the commission members to articulate the theology of marriage as “covenant” and family as the foundation of Catholic Christian life.

• The third transcript of his 1987 lecture on Lumen Gentium was presented the year before he died and clearly articulates the wisdom of this council document, the Latin title of which is translated, “The Light of the Nations.”

For the first time, these significant biblical, theological, pastoral and historical insights will be presented to the public through perspectives of  and about John Cardinal Dearden.

2) A third component of the publication is a selection of his speeches, writings and homilies which illustrate his eloquence, pastoral sensitivities, academic and theological brilliance. His motto, “I Serve in the Gospel,” reflects his deep love of the Gospel and Church and his faithful discipleship in Jesus Christ as servant leader of the People of God.

3) In addition to the transcriptions, essays will be included by those who knew and worked with the Cardinal Dearden. The essayists will provide first-person reflections, assessments and anecdotes about his remarkable contributions to the Church and society. Many assisted him in creating an innovative archdiocesan pastoral plan to respond to the “signs of the time” as Vatican II urged. They educated and engaged people at all levels in the dynamic process of Church renewal and the people responded with resounding enthusiasm. Some of the essayists instituted programs and services to directly and immediately address pressing social needs. Previously published essays by nationally respected authors and theologians will complete this section providing ample evidence of the legacy which this “extraordinary” ordinary left to the People of God. Father Ted Hesburgh, President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, once said of Cardinal Dearden: “No hierarchy in the world has a better or more forthright and courageous leader than John Cardinal Dearden.”

Photographs will chronicle John Cardinal Dearden’s journey from: student to priest, bishop to council father, cardinal to “pastor of the American Church” (a title given him by Capuchin Father Michael Crosby upon hearing of the legacy project).

4) The fourth component is a study guide with discussion questions for readers to:

• Understand the teachings of Vatican II and how these were implemented in Detroit by John Cardinal Dearden from the time of his installation as archbishop in 1959 to his retirement in 1980;

• Discuss how those teachings and the process of shared decision-making can enhance collaborations in the local Church today;

• Explore those particular insights which inspire their own faith life as they continue their pilgrim journey to the Kingdom of God—in faith, hope and love.

Expected date of publication: 2012, which marks the 50th anniversary of the first session of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Editor and Project Director: Judy M. Holmes—

• Her deep-seated respect and admiration for Cardinal Dearden have spanned over four decades, beginning in 1967 when she worked as archdiocesan Center Coordinator of the Institute for Continuing Education during the breathtaking years of Church renewal under his visionary leadership.

• In 1973 and in his honor, she wrote and produced a fifty-minute program, “Another Man Called John,” on the occasion of the cardinal’s 25th anniversary of being named bishop; it was presented by “Merry-Go-Round,” a weekly radio show which aired for ten years on WXYZ-AM and WRIF-FM.

• Judy was elected to the first Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in 1973 which engaged in authentic dialogue with the Cardinal every quarter about the needs of and directions for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

• As Associate Director of the Orchard Lake Center for Pastoral Studies, she and director Rev. Clifford F. Ruskowski invited Cardinal Dearden to give a day-long public presentation on Vatican II in March 1984.

• Most recently, she researched and hosted the Catholic Television Network of Detroit’s 2004 production of “John Cardinal Dearden: A Remembrance,” based on a local gathering which Judy helped to plan. The event, “We Remember Him,” featured reminiscences about the cardinal by Jane Wolford Hughes and Bishops Thomas Gumbleton, Joseph Imesch and Kenneth Untener and was held at Most Holy Trinity Church in November 2003. A DVD of “John Cardinal Dearden: A Remembrance” is available for purchase through CTND: 313-237-5800.

Team members: Emelia Junk, Tim Westfall, Tawnya K. Bender and Geri Pleva

The Cardinal Dearden Legacy Project: Judy M. Holmes, Director judymholmes@comcast.net